What Is This Thing Called Science

What Is This Thing Called Science? by Alan Chalmers

What Is This Thing Called Science? / Alan Chalmers

What Is This Thing Called Science : Chapter 1: science as knowledge

17th century science based on facts of observation, rather than based on authority (e.g. the Bible)

Scientific knowledge is derived from facts arrived at by observation shared view empiricists and positivists


  1. Facts are directly given to careful, unprejudiced observers via the senses
  2. Facts are prior to and independent of theory
  3. Facts constitute a firm and reliable foundation for scientific knowledge

Seeing is believing = false

– What observers see, the subjective experiences that they undergo, when viewing an object or scene is not determined solely by the images but depends also on the experience, knowledge and expectations of the observer à perceptions are not given in a straightforward way via the senses, rather one has to learn to be a competent observer in science

– Counterargument: observers see the same thing but interpret what they see differently

– But our perceptual experiences are determined by more than just the images we see à knowledge and expectations

Observable facts expressed as statements

–  Facts are understood as statements

– Before an observer can formulate and assent to an observation statement, he must be in possession of the appropriate conceptual framework and knowledge of to apply it

–  It is a mistake to presume (b) because facts presuppose pre-knowledge, so it cannot be the case that we first establish the facts and then derive knowledge from them

Why should facts precede theory?

– Idea that the adequacy of knowledge should be tested against the observable facts makes no sense if facts must precede the knowledge that might be supported by them

– Search for and formulation of facts is knowledge dependent. If the truth of falsity of observation statements can be established in a direct way by observation then it would seem that the observation statements confirmed in this way provide a basis for scientific knowledge

Fallibility of observation statements

– If the knowledge that provided the categories we use to describe our observations is defective, the observation statements that presuppose those categories are similarly defective

–  The correction of a mistake about observable facts may be made possible by improved

knowledge and technology

– Any view to the effect that scientific knowledge is based on facts acquired by observation must allow that facts as well as the knowledge are fallible and subject to correction

-Scientific knowledge and the facts on which it is based are interdependent


– Perceptions are influenced by the background and expectations of the observer, so what appears to be an observable fact for one need not to be for another

– Judgments about the truth of observation statements depend on what is already known, thus rendering the observable facts as fallible as the presuppositions underlying them

 Read it also: Simulacrum vs Simulacra

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